We’re staying in this year, and creating our own festive approach to a love-laden holiday that originally began with sacrificing a goat to the fertility gods. But we acknowledge that this strategy comes with challenges, too. Perhaps you want to involve your kids in a special night—but how to reconcile that with an at-least-a-little-special night for you and your significant other? Here are some lo-fi but lovely ways to tackle the day that don’t require a lot of pomp and circumstance. (Or sacrifice.)
Make it adventurous. Laying down a big, cozy blanket for an indoor picnic (Next to a fireplace? Even better!) is a fun way to make dinner memorable. Kid-made place settings—maybe heart-shaped, to pin to your lapel—are also a charming way to ensure everyone participates, setting the tone for togetherness.
Collaborate. Whether you’re a fondue family, raclette aficionados, or find inspiration in a raucous baked potato bar, creating a meal that involves sharing is always a great way to go. (And go with the flow you must!)
A few simple approaches we endorse:
- Sheet pan dinners. Load up a sheet pan earlier in the day or the night before, put it in the fridge, and load it into the oven just as you’re starting the kid bedtime process. These can look really elegant and beautiful, like this spatchcock chicken with hasselback potatoes and zucchini fries. It only has 25 minutes of prep time and can cook while you have fun making dessert.
- Slow cooker dinners. Sure, the slow cooker has been associated with a lot of lowbrow, un-romantic meals. But it’s perfect for creating a meal while you celebrate with your kids, and there are some great options if you search, like this lamb with olives and potatoes.
- Dutch oven recipes. Start dinner on the stovetop before the kids get home from school, then throw it in the oven during family time. By bedtime, have a meal ready to go. We love Ina Garten’s take on boeuf bourguignon—about as romantic and special as it gets—with much less work than the super-traditional version. Serve it with wine and crusty bread. This will be ten times better than the overcrowded restaurant you’re avoiding.
Elsewhere, we offered up five DIY Valentine’s projects to get kids into the kitchen before the magic day. (And our Cuckoo for Cocoa Kitchen Academy box makes a lovely gift.) With V-Day upon us, here are few more edible ideas for cooperative celebration:
- Truffles. While they can get really fancy, there are dozens of kid-friendly truffle recipes that can be covered in many different toppings, from coconut to sprinkles to powdered sugar.
- Caramels. This doesn’t take long, though it’s a two-step process, with most of the labor happening up front. You can make the treats the night before with the kids, and then have a laid-back Valentine’s Day afternoon, cutting, wrapping, packaging (and eating) the candies. You can find the recipe in February’s Hot & Cold Kitchen Academy box.
- Peanut butter pretzel hearts. If you have very little ones, this four-ingredient dessert is fun, colorful, and difficult to mess up.
Wine? Totally up to you. No judgement either way. (But, yes.) One final recommendation: do the dishes tomorrow.
Sarah Aswell is a freelance writer and comedian living in Montana. Her work has appeared in places like The New Yorker, USA Today, Scary Mommy, National Lampoon, Vulture, and many more.